Welcome to summer! The June edition of LRM’s Retro-Specs splashes into summer with none other than the might Super Soaker franchise! If you’re like me, 90% of my childhood summers were spent outside. We would come in for lunch, and a quick NES break, fuel up, then head back outside until the street light came on.
With those summers in the 80s and 90s many will remember pools, sprinklers, drinking from the hose tap, slip n’slides, and of course, squirt guns. In the 90s though, the squirt gun game took on a whole new level. Let’s take a look back at our beloved Super Soaker brand!
Super Soakers and…NASA?
With Super Soaker being the staple in summer water fun, its history actually connects to NASA. That’s right. NASA engineer, Lonnie Johnson, first comes up with the idea in 1982. Assuming in some type of office or lab, right? Wrong. The idea is put together from ideas he has in his bathroom and basement. A prototype is created in 1989 known as the Power Drencher.
While working on the Galileo Missions, which sent a device to study Jupiter (no big deal) he was working on some refrigeration equipment. He hooks the nozzle up to the bathroom sink and he shares with Popular Mechanics:
“I accidentally shot a stream of water across a bathroom where I was doing the experiment and thought to myself, ‘This would make a great gun.”
The project is put on hold as he goes to work for the Air Force on stealth bombers. However, in his basements sits plexiglass material for a water gun prototype. He eventually gives the prototype to his then 7-year-old daughter who dominates all the other kids on the base during water fights.
The original idea is to make, and distribute, 1000 Power Drenchers himself. Once he realizes the task is too daunting to handle on his own, Johnson sets out to find a production team. At the the New York American International Toy Fair he finds this partnership with toy company Larami.
Johnson already has the Jammin’ Jet, which is a compressed air style gun. However, it did not fair well due to a defect. So, he adds a two liter pop bottle on top of the barrel and sends out the concept. Larami unfortunately were primarily known for knock-off toys, which is not quite what Johnson is hoping for. However, he gives the executives and example of the prototype and shows them in the conference room how it works.
In 1990 the Super Drencher hits shelves through Lamari. It is an instant success. Through rebranding in 1991, The Super Soaker is born with over two million units being sold in the summer alone! I know I was one of the lucky children who got one in the summer of 91. No other water guns could come close!
Johnson’s Continued Legacy
Toy giants Hasbro ends up buying out Lamari and the Super Soaker brand. Combining with their toy influence power, they have made over $1 billion in sales over the last three decades. Super Soaker even makes the toy hall of fame in 2015. As it should!
Johnson continued to help Hasbro fine-tune their Nerf line while still working as a scientist for NASA. His primary goal now is not the Super Soaker or Nerf, but to help young scientists of color break into the career field.
Super Soaker Dominates 90s Summers
In the 90s almost everyone had some model of a Super Soaker. Many are cost efficient, but there are some that dare quite expensive, especially for the time. There is always that one kid in the neighborhood, or at school who has THE top of the line. You knew you were in trouble during water wars.
In 1991 the original line is the Super Soaker 30, 50, and 100.The 30-50 are anywhere between $15-$25 at the time. Not bad. I remember most kids had the 50. My sister and I both had one. The 100 is more around $35-$40. Obviously the higher the class the more water that can be carried. The first series have most kids on the same playing field.
In 1992 some smaller versions are available for cheaper prices such as Super Soaker 20 and 30.
The Super Soaker 200 also comes out wielding two cannons, and a sub cannon, on one gun!
1993 is where the large divide begins. As the Super Soakers grow, so do their compacity for water. Some even coming with straps because they become so heavy when filled. The larger the cannon, the heftier the price. Some begin to be reach near the $100 mark. Others exceed it!
Knowing there is not way some can reach such heights, there are other ways to try and compete. I for one had the Super Soaker X.T.C. (Extra Tank Carrier) belt that can carry two to four water containers you can switch out in fierce battle. The issue? Well running with them filled usually ends up with them leaking all over you. That or dumping half the water out when “reloading”. Whatever, it’s summer and everyone loves a good cool off!
End of an Era
The franchise goes strong through 2013 after Hasbro merges the Super Soaker line with the Nerf line. However, Johnson ends up suing Hasbro for not paying royalties from 2007-2012. Through 2016 the Nerf Super Soaker brand continues to make products. However, many are criticized as nothing close to the quality they used to be. Is anything now days?
The entire run of the Super Soaker can be found in the detialed timeline image below as well as the link here. The timeline is wonderfully put together by iSoaker.
Now that summer is swinging in, what are your memories of Super Soakers? What products did you have? Do you still have them? Leave your thoughts in the usual spot, and thanks for reading!